CD Review- MusicWeb International on Gal Triptych and Violin Concerti

From MusicWeb International, published October 5, 2010

….TheViolin Concerto comes from the period 1931-2 when Gál was at his most successful in Germany. It is in many ways quite an untroubled work. Throughout it I kept pinching myself that this was not a British concerto as it seems to bear little relationship with the Austro-Germanic tradition of the late Romantics or early moderns prevalent at the time. The ‘Fantasia’ opening movement and the second movement marked ‘Arioso’ begin with a very English-sounding pastoral melody on the oboe. The only vicious and angry writing comes in the cadenzas which Gál himself wrote. The piece was written for Georg Kulenkampff and Fritz Busch and is in three movements. The finale, a Rondo, is quite lively and the brightest of the three but the opening is a Fantasia with four or five contrasting ideas. The work as a whole hangs together in a most satisfactory manner. Annette-Barbara Vogel tells us in a brief essay that recording this work and indeed the entire disc has been her dream for many years. She can be triply proud of her efforts, those of the orchestra and of Kenneth Woods who enables the orchestration to breath with such clarity. The recording engineers must also take a bow.

….. In 1939 he wrote an equally lyrical ‘Concertino’ which, ironically is, if anything,   more virtuosic than the concerto.  Its opening Andante tranquillo is fecund with ideas, almost Fantasia-like.  Its melody on cellos is almost Korngold and even more so when the soloist takes it up. But the second subject is strident and dotted. The work is in just two movements linked by a challenging bridge-cadenza before hustling in a ‘Rigaudon’. This was a melody which Gál noted down, apparently from a British Museum Manuscript dated 1716; in contrast there is a more romantic second subject. A nice touch is created by this idea melting away into another, briefer cadenza before the opening melody of the first movement returns with a sense of sadness and nostalgia. The dance tune is suddenly re-invigorated for a final fling in the orchestral strings and then by all, leading to a light-hearted ending.

The CD places ‘Triptych’ between these two concertante works. It dates from around Gál’s 80th year, when he was experiencing a late burst of creative activity. The excellent booklet notes by Eva Gál tell us that this was the time of Third Quartet in 1969, the Fourth of 1971, the Fourth Symphony of 1973 and a Clarinet Quintet of 1977. One is therefore reminded of late-flowering composers such as Berthold Goldschmidt and Havergal Brian. The Triptych is intractably conservative for its time. Indeed in the clarinet writing of the slow, middle movement – called a ‘Lament’ – and in the lyrical second subject of the third movement marked ‘Comedy’, one may well be reminded of autumnal Brahms. … But this music is not shackled to any particular time and like its composer is related to no particular place. It has a serious sense of purpose without dourness. It has harmonic variety without abstruseness. It has rhythmic vitality without being overly complex. It has an immediate impact but is worthy of greater study.

The presentation is exemplary with photos and examples of Gál’s neat manuscript work and wonderful performances. If from my descriptions the music seems to have an appeal then search out this CD out because if successful then I suspect more Gál might appear in the next few years.

Gary Higginson

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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